In the Year of Darwin, Anticipating the Dawkins Problem

Next year, as the science community celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, leading organizations such as the AAAS, NIH, and the National Academies will be participating in coordinated efforts to reach out to new audiences, emphasizing the value and importance of teaching evolution in schools.

They will be using innovative techniques such as the AAAS YouTube video produced above. And as the National Academies did last year or as AAAS does in the video, they will be focusing importantly on the frame of religious compatibility, reassuring and confirming for many key audiences the compatibility between evolutionary science and the great majority of religious traditions.

Yet despite these communication efforts, the loudest voice on evolution threatens to be Richard Dawkins and other New Atheist pundits who will be arguing their maverick view that evolutionary science undermines the validity of religion or even respect for the religious. Dawkins, in particular, when on his US publicity tour for his forthcoming book, is likely to engage in his trademark rhetoric, comparing belief to a virus of the mind, child abuse, and fairy tales. In the process, he will continue to send confusing messages about the important differences between science, atheism, and religion. As he admits in the film Expelled and elsewhere, his personal beliefs about atheism are likely to do damage to the cause of defending the teaching of evolution in schools.

On April 13 (details forthcoming), as part of a lecture series in DC hosted by the National Academies and co-sponsored by NIH, I will be talking about the communication challenges on evolution, the recent innovative strategies on the part of several organizations, and the public outreach problems generated by Dawkins and the New Atheist movement. For a preview, see this interview segment I did with Big Think this past summer or this forthcoming book chapter.

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